Challenging mental health stigma and discrimination

We know that mental health stigma and discrimination have a big impact on people – so it’s important to be able to recognise it, and know how to challenge it.

Our research shows that 47% of people feel confident to challenge stigma and discrimination, but we need that number to be much higher, so no one is treated unfairly when they’re struggling.

Together through the See Us movement or as individuals, we need to have the strength to challenge anyone who fails to treat someone with a mental health problem with respect, dignity and as an equal.

Often, the people behaving inappropriately may not mean to cause harm and are ignorant of the negative impact of their actions or words. Simply by explaining the situation may be enough for them not to make the same mistakes again.

However, phrases and words will still crop up in our day to day lives from direct conversations, our experiences and in the media.

Phrases like 'pull yourself together' or 'there are people worse off than you' can hurt and affect those experiencing mental health problems.

Casual stigma continues to be common in Scottish society. Some examples include:

  • Language used – “She’s totally psycho”, “You’re so bipolar”, “I’m a bit OCD about that”, “Don’t be mental”.
  • Reinforcing stereotypes – like “mental patient” Halloween costumes or characters with mental health problems being portrayed as dangerous on TV.
  • Unhelpful comments – “Don’t go near that psycho if you value your life.”
  • Pictures used in the media to depict mental health problems – like photos of people clutching their heads.

Other things to look out for in your own behaviour, and from others:

  • Avoid making a judgement based on a diagnosis of mental illness.
  • Don’t ignore someone asking for help as you see their behaviour as attention seeking. Seeking attention is nothing to feel ashamed about but a sign of strength and can be the first step to recovery.
  • Making someone feel different due to a mental health problem which can hinder recovery by causing self-doubt over the validity of the illness – ‘am I really ill?’
  • Recognising that opening up to friends and family is still too daunting an experience for many people struggling with their mental health. Be patient and wait till they are ready. Don't show frustration and be there to listen non-judgementally when the time is right. You can also start the conversation, asking someone if they’re okay and showing you care and will listen.
  • Don’t steer clear of someone with a mental health diagnosis. They are still the person you know but are unwell.
  • Consider that we all have mental health, which can be good or bad, and is always changing. So thinking of someone as different because of their mental health doesn’t make sense.

Challenging inappropriate behaviour

Understanding what stigma looks like is one thing – but knowing how to challenge it is something that lots of people find difficult.

Know your facts

When people start sharing their views on mental health, it’s good to have a few facts up your sleeve to dispel some of the myths they believe.

Our understanding stigma page is helpful, or you can find out more about how stigma affects people with different mental health conditions.

Remember, your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of

It can be upsetting, infuriating and hurtful when you hear or experience stigma – but always remember that your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and other people’s misconceptions are not a reflection on who you are.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is using discriminatory language or treating others unfairly, we’d always recommend avoiding turning it into an argument.

Often, stigma is unintentional, but can be overcome with the right information.

Share your story

If you feel comfortable sharing, you could let the person know that you or someone close to you struggles with their mental health – and say you’re open to speaking about it or answering any questions if they’d like to know more.

Join the See Us movement

We know that it will take more than one person to take action against mental health stigma and discrimination, and that it’s going to take all of us to create real change.

The See Us movement brings together individuals and organisations from across Scotland who are committed to making a difference for others.

On the See Us web pages, we’ve got lots of tools and resources you can use to take action against stigma wherever you are.

Get support

This could be by just speaking to someone you trust if you’ve experienced stigma in day to day life. Or it could be by getting an advocate to support you to get the health care you need and want, or having someone come with you to the GP to support you and what you are saying.

Ways we can challenge mental health stigma together

Research has shown that taking action against mental health stigma and discrimination takes a three-pronged approach – using social contact, education and protest. Read more about the different elements below.

Social contact

This is when conversations happen between those who experience mental health problems and those who do not. Social contact can also extend to include listening to, watching or reading about someone’s experiences. Social contact works because it focuses on the people, not the labels of mental illness. This means that negative assumptions and attitudes are challenged, in turn reducing stigma.


Education seeks to replace stigmatising attitudes with accurate representations of mental health. Through providing facts and dispelling myths about mental health, people are better able to understand and support others with mental health problems.


A protest is a statement or action which shows disapproval or objection. Not all forms of protesting involve big groups of people and signs! It is possible to make small, individual protests and still have an impact. Things like boycotting, petitions and speaking out against inequalities are all ways to protest.

Protests work because they get lots of people rallied around a shared cause and put pressure on decision makers or organisers to change.